I Forgot How Bad Apple’s EarPods (not AirPods) Sound

EarpodsAs you may know, Apple announced their new wireless AirPods on Wednesday. You can read my thoughts by clicking that previous link. Yesterday, Doug Adams and I were recording an episode of your podcast The Next Track, where we discussed Apple’s new product announcements, and the removal of the headphone jack from the iPhone. Before the show, I went to my storage room to pull out a pair of EarPods. I haven’t used these for years, and, in fact, I haven’t used them at all, since they don’t fit in my ears. I tried them when they were first launched, and put them back in the box.

But I took out a pair yesterday, wondering how they sounded. Back in the day, I did use Apple’s earbuds when I went out walking, and I recall that they were weak, but acceptable for a small, lightweight headphone to listen to on the go. But after a while, discovered the excellent Sennheiser PX 100-II i headphones. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) These small, light, on-ear headphones have an inline remote and microphone, and I use them often, when walking, when recording podcasts, and when making phone calls at home. They also fold, so they’re practical for listening anywhere. They have excellent sound, and even decent bass response.

But back to the EarPods. They sounded horrible. Like AM radio, but worse. Even the cheap headphones I used with a Walkman in the early 1980s sounded better. I was truly surprised how bay they sounded.

This is interesting, because, while Apple touted the pairing abilities of the new AirPods, they didn’t say much about the sound quality. Pairing is important, but sound quality should be the benchmark by which they are judged.

Christina Warren, writing for Gizmodo, tried them out, and said:

Let me put it this way: AirPods sound way better than wired EarPods. I know that isn’t saying much, but it’s worth noting when you consider that the design is very, very similar.

Sounding “way better” is probably not good enough for something at this price. I’m curious to see what others say about these AirPods. We won’t really know for a while, since they won’t be released until October. But given the poor quality of Apple’s EarPods, I guess the bar isn’t set very high.

18 thoughts on “I Forgot How Bad Apple’s EarPods (not AirPods) Sound

  1. We have dozens of these still in their iPhone boxes, going back years. I’ve never used them, being deaf: but the ladies of the house both use Sennheiser headphones – decent sound quality; different sizes of in-ear fittings, etc..

  2. We have dozens of these still in their iPhone boxes, going back years. I’ve never used them, being deaf: but the ladies of the house both use Sennheiser headphones – decent sound quality; different sizes of in-ear fittings, etc..

  3. I’ve given most of mine away and keep 1 pair for extreme emergency. The sound is awful and they really hurt my ears – I can’t use in-ear buds of any kind. The loss of the headphone jack is huge for me.

  4. I’ve given most of mine away and keep 1 pair for extreme emergency. The sound is awful and they really hurt my ears – I can’t use in-ear buds of any kind. The loss of the headphone jack is huge for me.

  5. I think it was stupid to remove the headphone jack, and I don’t think the wired Apple EarPods are outstanding, but my experience is dramatically different than the comments by Kirk, Peg, and Christina Warren of Gizmodo (Gizmodo is not a reliable source of objective technology evaluation). Since they don’t fit the ears of Kirk or Peg, that has got to be a factor in their musical experience. I don’t know if leaving his EarPods unused for years affected the sound Kirk heard, but his experience has almost no similarities with mine.

    EarPods are one of three listening devices that I use regularly with one of my iPods, and sometimes my iPhone. They fit my ears, and are comfortable for me in listening of up to roughly an hour, which is the longest I tend to listen in one sitting (or one jogging, or one driving with headphones). I just put them on, and listened a bit, to provide an evaluation uncolored by inaccurate memory. My rating: very good. Infinitely better than AM radio (which, played through a good audio system, is far better than most people give it credit for). I can’t provide an honest evaluation of EarPods compared with Sony Walkman headphones from the 80s- and no one can. Kirk may trust his audio memory across 35 years, but testing has shown that our ability to compare audio quality is very limited in time, and most other parameters. Back to a genuine, this very moment evaluation. My EarPods, in my Ears® (why shouldn’t I get a trademark for my superb biological internal listening equipment?) sound very clean at the audio volume that I listen. I don’t hear any distortion or artifacts. There is great separation of the various instruments and voices. The dynamic range is very good, maintaining clarity from the loudest to the softest sounds. Bass is tepid, as it usually is for almost all inexpensive devices with tiny drivers, but the bass instruments still come through cleanly and clearly. Mid-range and highs are good. The highest strings on the solo violins sound fine. The overall sound is a bit thin, but this, too, is normal in tiny devices.

    Comparing to my AEGs and Sennheiser in ear options, the EarPods are the worst of the three, especially in the bass. But not by a tremendous amount. For me, they provide an entirely adequate listening experience. And, of course, all my in ear options sound worse than my large-driver on ear and around ear headphones. I doubt that I got lucky, with my specific EarPods being vastly above average. And I will dispute those readers who conclude that my Ears® are shot, or that my judgement is impaired or abnormal. I frequently participate in group listening by small teams doing audio editing, or editing the audio for video productions. My ability to notice subtleties, and to make useful suggestions and adjustments that are adopted by the group, is about as good as everyone else.

    There is a great deal of hyperbole in writing about music and music equipment. There is also a great deal of absurd blather, chronicled in Kirk’s article series on audio cables. In any case, we are blessed to live in a time of such high audio quality options, that a “very good” device might be the twelfth choice, behind a dozen other devices, half of which rate “superb”, and the other half “excellent”. Perhaps it is a fool’s errand to call for people to remember that “very good” really is “very good”, even if there are many better options. But I am a happy listener on all the devices I use regularly, which doesn’t include AM or FM radio, by the way, but often does include my EarPods, listening to my chosen music, ripped at high quality from CDs, and played back on any of several iPods.

    • Marvelous, fair, and informative comment!

      I had a similar reaction to the blanket disparagement of the earbuds, especially the ones with the microphone-record buttons that lets you stop tracks, podcasts, continue, etc.

      I have found that the quality of the sound varies greatly depending upon how one fits the bud into one’s ear.

      Like AM radio, but worse?! Agree with your criticism of that. Depends upon what you’re using– a cheap transistor radio, a full speaker set with tuner in the living room, etc. in any event, certainly never find it scratchy or fading in and out or anything else associate with poor AM!

  6. I think it was stupid to remove the headphone jack, and I don’t think the wired Apple EarPods are outstanding, but my experience is dramatically different than the comments by Kirk, Peg, and Christina Warren of Gizmodo (Gizmodo is not a reliable source of objective technology evaluation). Since they don’t fit the ears of Kirk or Peg, that has got to be a factor in their musical experience. I don’t know if leaving his EarPods unused for years affected the sound Kirk heard, but his experience has almost no similarities with mine.

    EarPods are one of three listening devices that I use regularly with one of my iPods, and sometimes my iPhone. They fit my ears, and are comfortable for me in listening of up to roughly an hour, which is the longest I tend to listen in one sitting (or one jogging, or one driving with headphones). I just put them on, and listened a bit, to provide an evaluation uncolored by inaccurate memory. My rating: very good. Infinitely better than AM radio (which, played through a good audio system, is far better than most people give it credit for). I can’t provide an honest evaluation of EarPods compared with Sony Walkman headphones from the 80s- and no one can. Kirk may trust his audio memory across 35 years, but testing has shown that our ability to compare audio quality is very limited in time, and most other parameters. Back to a genuine, this very moment evaluation. My EarPods, in my Ears® (why shouldn’t I get a trademark for my superb biological internal listening equipment?) sound very clean at the audio volume that I listen. I don’t hear any distortion or artifacts. There is great separation of the various instruments and voices. The dynamic range is very good, maintaining clarity from the loudest to the softest sounds. Bass is tepid, as it usually is for almost all inexpensive devices with tiny drivers, but the bass instruments still come through cleanly and clearly. Mid-range and highs are good. The highest strings on the solo violins sound fine. The overall sound is a bit thin, but this, too, is normal in tiny devices.

    Comparing to my AEGs and Sennheiser in ear options, the EarPods are the worst of the three, especially in the bass. But not by a tremendous amount. For me, they provide an entirely adequate listening experience. And, of course, all my in ear options sound worse than my large-driver on ear and around ear headphones. I doubt that I got lucky, with my specific EarPods being vastly above average. And I will dispute those readers who conclude that my Ears® are shot, or that my judgement is impaired or abnormal. I frequently participate in group listening by small teams doing audio editing, or editing the audio for video productions. My ability to notice subtleties, and to make useful suggestions and adjustments that are adopted by the group, is about as good as everyone else.

    There is a great deal of hyperbole in writing about music and music equipment. There is also a great deal of absurd blather, chronicled in Kirk’s article series on audio cables. In any case, we are blessed to live in a time of such high audio quality options, that a “very good” device might be the twelfth choice, behind a dozen other devices, half of which rate “superb”, and the other half “excellent”. Perhaps it is a fool’s errand to call for people to remember that “very good” really is “very good”, even if there are many better options. But I am a happy listener on all the devices I use regularly, which doesn’t include AM or FM radio, by the way, but often does include my EarPods, listening to my chosen music, ripped at high quality from CDs, and played back on any of several iPods.

    • Marvelous, fair, and informative comment!

      I had a similar reaction to the blanket disparagement of the earbuds, especially the ones with the microphone-record buttons that lets you stop tracks, podcasts, continue, etc.

      I have found that the quality of the sound varies greatly depending upon how one fits the bud into one’s ear.

      Like AM radio, but worse?! Agree with your criticism of that. Depends upon what you’re using– a cheap transistor radio, a full speaker set with tuner in the living room, etc. in any event, certainly never find it scratchy or fading in and out or anything else associate with poor AM!

  7. The key point being that if they fit properly in your ears, you may find the sound surprisingly good for the price (I do!). But if they don’t fit, it is not surprising the sound quality is greatly diminished and completely unsatisfactory. I can’t hear the difference between audio cables under any circumstances but headphones or earbuds that don’t fit are easy to sort out. Thanks for your observations.

  8. The key point being that if they fit properly in your ears, you may find the sound surprisingly good for the price (I do!). But if they don’t fit, it is not surprising the sound quality is greatly diminished and completely unsatisfactory. I can’t hear the difference between audio cables under any circumstances but headphones or earbuds that don’t fit are easy to sort out. Thanks for your observations.

  9. In cleaning out my deceased father’s home, I opened a box to find a new-looking, late ’80s Sony Walkman, with its original headphones. Remembering Kirk’s criticism of Apple Earpods, compared to the ’80s Walkman and to AM radio, I realized this was an opportunity not to be missed. Adding new batteries, and a cassette tape from about 15 years ago, I slipped on the headphones, and pressed ‘Play’. I was surprised. It sounded pretty good. I switched to AM radio. A bit worse, but still not bad. Next, I checked FM, and the sound was somewhat better. Listening to this device, it’s easy to understand how the Walkman satisfied millions of listeners over many years.

    Finally, I unplugged the Sony headphones, and tried my Apple Earpods. They sounded significantly better for all three music sources. Certainly not as good as my iPhone or my Sennheiser headphones, but a clear step up from ’80s technology. Of course, it is impossible to say how sound reproduction capability of the Sony headphones might have changed over the last thirty years. But to the extent that it is possible to compare the major portable music players of two different eras in a simple, living room listening test, I am glad to report that both the stock headphones and the playback device have improved noticeably.

  10. In cleaning out my deceased father’s home, I opened a box to find a new-looking, late ’80s Sony Walkman, with its original headphones. Remembering Kirk’s criticism of Apple Earpods, compared to the ’80s Walkman and to AM radio, I realized this was an opportunity not to be missed. Adding new batteries, and a cassette tape from about 15 years ago, I slipped on the headphones, and pressed ‘Play’. I was surprised. It sounded pretty good. I switched to AM radio. A bit worse, but still not bad. Next, I checked FM, and the sound was somewhat better. Listening to this device, it’s easy to understand how the Walkman satisfied millions of listeners over many years.

    Finally, I unplugged the Sony headphones, and tried my Apple Earpods. They sounded significantly better for all three music sources. Certainly not as good as my iPhone or my Sennheiser headphones, but a clear step up from ’80s technology. Of course, it is impossible to say how sound reproduction capability of the Sony headphones might have changed over the last thirty years. But to the extent that it is possible to compare the major portable music players of two different eras in a simple, living room listening test, I am glad to report that both the stock headphones and the playback device have improved noticeably.

  11. I can’t even use my EarPods or however they are called,
    First: I don’t even know how to put them in my ears, because the design is more than absolute horrible and bad.
    2: they don’t stay in and instantly fall out, no matter how I wear them
    3: after 2 minutes my ears just hurt, even my 1$ headphones feel 10000 times better, because they have a rubber thing and are not all plastic…

    And my 1$ headphones sound the same, have A LOT better comfort and feel 1Million times better and don’t fall out and so on.

    Just horrible, every other brand delivers better headphones out of the box as apple…

  12. I can’t even use my EarPods or however they are called,
    First: I don’t even know how to put them in my ears, because the design is more than absolute horrible and bad.
    2: they don’t stay in and instantly fall out, no matter how I wear them
    3: after 2 minutes my ears just hurt, even my 1$ headphones feel 10000 times better, because they have a rubber thing and are not all plastic…

    And my 1$ headphones sound the same, have A LOT better comfort and feel 1Million times better and don’t fall out and so on.

    Just horrible, every other brand delivers better headphones out of the box as apple…

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